Tattooing practices date back thousands of years and have been passed down for centuries, continuing to evolve with changes in culture and technology. The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s new exhibition, Tattooing: Religion, Reality and Regret, explores the body adornment practices from ancient times to present, focusing on ancient tribal tattooing practices and on what tattooing means to people today.
Since tattooing is a practice that spans generations, age, gender and culture, we’ve asked some of our own Museum teammates to share their stories of why they chose to “get inked.”
For Sunrise Chebahtah, a member of the visitor services team at The Cowboy, body adornment is a practice rooted in her Native American heritage.
As a Comanche woman who has friends and acquaintances of all tribes, Sunrise has seen the younger generation’s work to reclaim their culture bring the re-emergence of traditional tattooing. To her, the wide-spread acceptance of tattooing in mainstream culture is also a sign that people are reclaiming their heritage and expressing themselves through body adornment.
“I think it’s normal to want to decorate your body,” she said, pointing out her nose ring. “It’s been happening for centuries.”
Her first tattoo, a bunny, was one she had thought about getting for a long time and seemed “inevitable.”
“It’s been a weird coincidence,” Sunrise said, explaining that she has encountered “bunnies” repeatedly throughout her life.
Her mother’s name means “rabbit” in the Comanche language. She also had a professor whose DJ stage name included “Bunny.” Sunrise also loves bunnies and named her flat stitch and beading business “Bunnitrove” to honor her regular interactions with rabbits as well as continue her cultural beading practices.
Her second tattoo, a musical caesura symbol, one that denotes a pause in a musical performance that usually brings the audience to a state of dramatic anticipation, is a nod to her time spent playing the piano, singing and performing.
Her third tattoo, a rising sun, commemorates a decade of friendship with her friend Dawn, who also bears the same tattoo.
Exploring the new exhibition at The Cowboy gave Sunrise a lot to connect with. Her favorite image in the exhibition is one of a woman with intricate beadwork as well as face tattoos. As a bead worker, Sunrise has seen many of her friends and acquaintances get traditional face tattoos.
Sunrise currently has three tattoos and plans to get more. Though her tattoos have meaning, she believes tattooing and piercing for the sake of adornment and cultural expression are reason enough to “get inked.”
Come explore Tattooing: Religion, Reality and Regret now through May 8, 2022.
And share your tattoo stories, inspiration or regrets with us on social media. We can make history together.